As I came out of the aircraft, a sudden gush of very humid wind touched my face. Welcome to Chennai, I told myself. While we were waiting for the ground staff to pick us from the airstrip, I looked around. A few of the gentlemen who have boarded the aircraft with me from Delhi were in their very traditional dresses; meticulously white kurtas and lungis. The white of their dress glowed against their dusky complexion. Their uncovered body parts were hidden in the dark of the night. Women were wearing embroidered saris heavily ornamented with the work of gold. Even if the whole airport was to fall under a sudden black out, the luminous dresses could easily make out for the lack of electricity. I don’t know if some people are so dark in this part of India or are burnt and reduced to charcoal by the sun. No idea.
I had asked the person sitting next to me in the airplane about how to go to Guindy. He could not tell but he advised that I should refrain from asking the same question to an autowallah and better should not think of taking an auto. One of my friends had recently visited a girl friend in Chennai – I mean his girlfriend from Delhi studying medicine in Chennai – and I remembered his experience. He asked his girlfriend to a movie. She suggested taking the local train. He insisted on hiring an auto. Of course, every boy would have. How can you agree to take your girlfriend on a cheap local train, when you have flown from Delhi, staying in a hotel minus stars, and sporting all branded accessories? Isn’t all this spending is what makes a girl feel pretty cool? But I guess before Chennai auto’s one should better heed to a girl friends modest advise because these guys make you feel like you are earning nothing. All his enthusiasm evaporated when the autowallah sounded costlier than the whole movie trip. Imagine paying 600 bucks for a 10 km ride to the City Center Mall. He had to revert back to the local train.
I took a prepaid taxi to Guindy. It was so humid like I was sailing in sea. The weather was very different from the dry heat of north India. I stopped by at my friend’s office in Guindy to get the keys to the room and from there I took an auto to Perungudi. It charged me another 170 bucks. This auto driver was, I am sure, had been expelled from an F1 race for driving too fast. My room was nearby one Life Line Hospital in Perungudi and I had to emphasize this fact to the driver that I only have to go to some place near to the hospital and not into the hospital. He drove like maniacs, flying over flyovers as if skaters in adventure sports. He justified the speed telling me that if he was not to drive so fast someone will hit the bum of the auto from behind. I watched the traffic and saw everyone driving in frenzy. I don’t think there were any lanes for regulating speed.
To appear a little friendly or honestly to regain my own composure after having landed in a very alien state , while taking the auto I had told him to tell me all the places that we will drive through. Now I regretted saying that. I just wanted him to keep his eyes on the road and concentrate on driving. But he was like solely interested in telling me about the city and its places. As we drove past a local train station, he took up the task of making me acquainted with all the stations that this line connects. He mentioned several unpronounceable places, two or three I tried to repeat after him but then I gave up. He continued with his rant while I was lost in thoughts of how I would ever ask anyone for directions in Chennai when I can’t even pronounce the names. In between he told me that he has been driving auto for the past twenty years and has never met with an accident. I don’t know if I was relaxed to hear this or was apprehensive to think that the counter would not start today.
Finally, I reached my destination safely. The auto driver gave me his mobile number and left off with a smile. And I retired to my room and slept.
Anyways, despite being presenting a very dull picture of Chennai, I have found after a few days stay that Chennai is not so bad after all. I am not saying this to placate the chennaites, but this is what I have felt. Yeah there still are language problems; a lot of people don’t understand a word of Hindi despite it being the National Language. But since most of the public can understand bits and pieces of English, I guess literacy rate here is better than north. It’s very warm and humid out here, but so is Delhi. It’s just that Delhi has very dry heat. Crime I have not much heard of here. Petty thefts, daylight robberies; nothing so far – touch wood! In Delhi, these are as common as breathing. Delhites have learned to live with this misfortune. Then some say Chennai is too traditional. But then what is wrong with it? On national platforms we say we need to conserve our cultural values. And when some culture tries to preserve itself, we term them as backwards and outcast them. Why this double standards? Though a few things look real amusing; like someone walking in the office of a multinational company wearing a lungi. But if it’s on the eve of a festival, it should be perfectly ok. Don’t in north India we observe traditional days during festivals? But only here I have seen women with shaven heads. No fun intended though, may be some religious or cultural thing. I have not prodded. Now I don’t want to put off my Delhi friends, so the comparison will end here.
This place is best suited for people who
· Don’t enjoy or are averse to the chilling Delhi winters (anyways, winters in Delhi don’t prolong now.)
· Don’t drink; do not look out for a pub and disco, or indulge in other similar activities in the weekend.
· People who are silent and reticent types, having a very reserved nature, who like to take long silent stroll along a beach, keep to themselves, can thrive on a book and can sleep off their weekends. Such people are not always boring, though however boring the previous statement might have sounded.
· You grow up a family, you can stay anywhere. A few of my friend’s friends have bought houses here and have settled here. And yes, they were from Kanpur and Delhi.
· You love south Indian food. Punjabi food is a rarity here, though in the dinner I have an arrangement for a north Indian Tiffin service, but then you know outside food even in Gurgaon can be disaster at times.
· You love the smell of sea. Mariana beach, they say probably the biggest publics beach in Asia and a lot others, though they are not very clean or serene. But a few miles out of Chennai and you will find vast amount of clean water and sand with no foot marks.
Just as an aside, since I have come to Chennai, four people have asked me for directions. And in gym, I met a guy and he told me that I resemble a Tamilian. And it has been only a month here. At this rate, a few more days and soon people will start finding a family in me.